Genealogy Roadshow Comes to San Francisco

Stuart Krasnow

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Stuart Krasnow, executive producer of the new PBS series Genealogy Roadshow, spoke to KQED about what drew him to the project, why they picked the four cities they visited and more.

This is your first PBS project. What drew you to it?
When Philip McGovern, the creator of this show in Ireland, was out shopping the program to various production companies here in the U.S., I saw part of the first season and fell in love with it. There are other genealogy shows out there, but they concentrate on celebrities, and I love that this format concentrates on people who aren't famous.

I've worked on game shows, talk shows, news shows and prime-time reality shows. But I've never worked on a show that literally anybody could be on. If you were born and you had two parents, there's something we can find out about you. Everyone has family history and secrets they know nothing about. It's up to us to unlock those mysteries.

So many of the show's crew members have a real sense of pride about working on a PBS project. It's the one you want to keep going. If we do our job right, we'll create something that people want to keep watching.

Were there certain things you were looking for in show guests?
Yes. The fact that everyone could qualify to be on the show is one part of the equation. But we're specifically looking for are people who are investigating a family claim — they think they are related to somebody famous or to an event in history and they want to know once and for all if it is just folklore that's become part of their family history.

People want to know how they fall into place in history. And when they find out an exciting piece of family history, it's pure joy. People are also finding out scandals from their past and about relatives they didn't know they had.

Why Austin, Nashville, Detroit and San Francisco?
It was a very hard decision to make, but we want to cover as many parts of the country as we could. We picked these four cities because they were all places where people of many different cultures ended up together at the same time and helped make each city what it is.

Have you explored any of your family stories?
The genealogists have been so busy researching show guests, but one of them, without telling me, has been doing a little research. It's always challenging when your people came over from Russia or Europe, where my family came from. Like so many people on the show, I can't answer anything beyond my grandparents generation. And now that my parents and grandparents are gone … You really start looking at these boxes of pictures and they don't make sense.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I've become almost dismissive of knowledge because I'm always just one smart phone search away from anything I ever need to know — many of us are freeing up our brains that way. People think the genealogists are just going to type your name and your grandparents name in Google and come up with all this stuff. But that's not true at all. These genealogists are like detectives looking at cold cases. They're taking weeks, months, sometimes years to find uncover the information and find where the records exist. It's like a game show where people are winning information about themselves that they'd never be able to find on their own. It really is pretty amazing.

This a great opportunity to celebrate how we're all different. I feel like we're all mutts now. People in Ireland, where the show was created, can go back in their Irish roots 12 generations. I don't know if there is such a thing as a pure American. We're all a mixture. It's interesting to find out what that mixture is.


Image courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS

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